Does the Road to WrestleMania ever start to feel like a grind?
The biggest show of the year is just around the corner, but we've still got major matches not yet finalized. Things are in flux. It'll all be settled in a week or so, but right now, things are in this weird state of limbo; we're all just ready for the big night to arrive.
But the show must go on, so let's take a look at some of the hottest topics from the world of pro wrestling this week.
KOFI'S SAD JOURNEY TO 'MANIA
Everyone knows Kofi Kingston's story will see him going to WrestleMania to face Daniel Bryan for the WWE Championship. Will he win? That, I can't tell you. Bryan's run as champion feels like one that's designed to last for the long term, which means 'Mania would be much too soon to see it come to an abrupt end. Maybe Kofi will win the belt and then lose it back in the following months? That's an option, and one we've seen WWE utilize in the past, though fans would feel shortchanged.
Point is, Kofi is going to WrestleMania. We all know it. WWE knows we know it. There's going to be a happy ending, of sorts, somewhere along the way, and right now we're just in the midst of the journey to get there.
If only the journey didn't feel this bad.
Stacking the odds against the surging babyface is a time-honored wrestling tradition. But this? This seems like a little much. Kingston had the odds stacked against him on Tuesday's edition of SmackDown and beat four of the brand's top superstars and Rowan in the course of one hour to ostensibly and finally earn his shot.
But no. Vince McMahon came out and, to the dismay of fans who'd gotten into the story told over the show's second hour, informed Kingston that he had to also beat Daniel Bryan. And of course, Bryan beat the exhausted Kingston to close that chapter of the story.
Kingston beat Sheamus, Cesaro, Rowan, Samoa Joe and Randy Orton. Four top SmackDown stars took a clean loss in one night against an exhausted opponent, and what was it for?
Again, I get the notion of stacking the odds. It usually works, but this is starting to feel a little long in the tooth.
"PEOPLE LIKE US"
Pro wrestling tends to get a little ham-handed when it comes to dealing with racially sensitive (or any other adult topical) issues. But on the Kingston storyline, they aren't doing...quite as bad as they usually do?
But I could do without this aspect of the story, mostly because I don't think it's needed. Kingston's story of being overlooked for 11 years is powerful enough without dancing around the topic of his skin color. Granted, it's leading to videos like the one Big E posted on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon, which is far more believable as a "shoot" promo than anything done in the Ronda Rousey story until this week.
RONDA AND TRAVIS HIGHLIGHT RAW
I groaned a little bit last week about the "realistic" turn of the Ronda Rousey angle. But after Monday night's episode of Raw, I'm officially recanting.
The show as a whole was much easier to watch than it used to be. The pace was brisk, the matches long and the stupidity kept to a minimum. And the highlight: Rousey's less-than-one-minute destruction of Dana Brooke, culminating in a gruesome-looking "real" armbar from Rousey that left me grimacing and my wife upset at me for waking her up with my yelling.
But the real treat came after the match, when Rousey's husband, former middling UFC heavyweight Travis Browne, got involved. Rousey was super believable in her interactions with the security guards trying to contain her at ringside, showing a glimpse of the real anger she's exhibited in front of those of us who have covered her mixed martial arts career since the beginning.
And Browne's knockout blow on the security guard was tight and gave a sense of believability to an angle that was getting a little too cute for its own good.
More of this, please, and less tweeting about how wrestling isn't real.
DREW IS THE FUTURE
Drew McIntyre has it all. He has the size. The looks. The physique. The dude can wrestle. He's a hell of a promo.
It was baffling when WWE let McIntyre go the first time around; he has literally everything Vince McMahon has historically salivated over when identifying his top talents. But the Scot found himself on the indie scene before returning to WWE as someone who can be a top guy.
Thus far into his main-roster run, he's been bubbling around the edges of the main event picture. But after WrestleMania, McIntyre appears poised to jump into a program with Seth Rollins, assuming Rollins beats Brock Lesnar and Lesnar leaves for what will ultimately be a really bad night in the cage with UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier.
It's none too soon for McIntyre. He has it. He'll never be the guy as long as Roman Reigns is around, but he can be the top heel once Lesnar is gone, and those are shoes he can adequately fill.
COMING SOON: REY MYSTERIO III?
The last time we saw Rey's son Dominic, he was a bleached-blond kid being used for an unfortunate angle with the late, great Eddie Guerrero back in 2005.
Today, Dominic has apparently become a giant, or at least that's how it seemed when he appeared at his father's side on SmackDown.
Mysterio has told friends that one of his last major goals in his final years in pro wrestling is to help his son break into the business. To that end, Dominic has been training at various pro wrestling schools in Mexico and the USA, learning the various traits of lucha libre and the American styles that served his father so well. He'll be at WrestleMania to cheer his dad on against Samoa Joe; if history has taught us anything, we should expect to see the younger Mysterio working in front of WWE crowds sooner rather than later, perhaps even assuming the Mysterio name.
He won't just be a cruiserweight either, judging by the looks of things.
'MANIA WEEKEND DELIGHTS
Are you going to WrestleMania weekend? I'll be there, and if you're going, you're likely going to attend one of the many ancillary, non-WWE shows that take place in the same city that weekend. New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor are running a big event at Madison Square Garden, though the buzz for that one is less than it used to be without Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks and Cody.
But there's still a ton of great wrestling to be found that weekend in New York, Brooklyn and Jersey. We'll cover more of them in the next two weeks.
The one I'm probably most looking forward to? Josh Barnett's Bloodsport event.
Last year's Bloodsport was held under Matt Riddle's name, and Barnett took it over this year after Riddle signed with WWE. It's a unique concept: a wrestling show based on incredibly stiff, shoot-style pro wrestling held in a ring without ropes. There are some intriguing matchups on this year's card, but none have me salivating more than the main event: Josh Barnett vs. Minoru Suzuki.
Both men are masters of brutal, shoot-style grappling. Both are legends of combat sports—the scripted and real kind. And both men are capable of dealing out incredible punishment in an industry built on making things looking far more real than they actually are. This one is going to be fun, but in a different, more bloody kind of way.
HOW MANY MATCHES IS TOO MANY?
WrestleMania is stacked. Here's what we know of the card so far:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Seth Rollins
Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair
Buddy Murphy (c) vs. Tony Nese
Triple H vs. Batista
Kurt Angle vs. Baron Corbin
Shane McMahon vs. The Miz
AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton
Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
Samoa Joe (c) vs. Rey Mysterio
On top of those matches, we'll have a women's tag team match (likely a four-way match between Bayley/Sasha, Nia/Tamina, The IIconics and Natalya/Beth Phoenix). Daniel Bryan will defend the belt against Kofi Kingston. And on Wednesday's edition of Wrestling Observer Radio, Dave Meltzer speculated that four more matches could be added on top of the ones we already have confirmed.
So, this leads me to ask: How many matches are too many matches? It feels like we may get the answer this year. Sure, every WrestleMania feels like a 19-hour show these days, but it seems we're adding too many matches when it would be better to give those already booked more time to play out.
BATISTA EXPLAINS HIMSELF. KIND OF.
We've had three distinct notches in the Triple H vs. Batista storyline thus far.
The first week was a resounding success, with Batista showing up out of nowhere on Raw and dragging Ric Flair's lifeless carcass out of his locker room during his 70th birthday party.
The second week was, well, not as great. But it did result in a meme-worthy segment, so at least there's that.
This week was better, though I'd say far from great. Batista appeared on Raw live from his office and explained why he hates Triple H so much. And the explanation? Because Triple H is a bad guy that only wanted to use Batista as his muscle when he first appeared on the WWE scene.
It's not a great explanation, but at least it's an explanation. And it's better than yelling "GIVE ME WHAT I WANT" repeatedly.
THE MIZ MIGHT BE A GOOD BABYFACE THIS TIME!
Mike Mizanin's runs as a babyface haven't historically gone all that well. He's so good as a heel that the brass eventually has to turn him babyface. But after the turn, there's just not much there. Miz as a babyface has always been a guy trying to play a babyface, and it falls flat.
But his promo on Tuesday's SmackDown gave me hope. Not that his match with Shane McMahon will be any good; Miz is a very good and solid worker, but he'd have to be Eddie Guerrero reincarnated to make McMahon's awful ring work look any good. No, it was his promo that made me think there might be something there with The Miz on this newest babyface run. He started off doing the same old thing he used to do, which is to play a babyface instead of actually be one.
But by the end of his promo, with his fiery and completely believable references to his father, Miz didn't just have the crowd in the arena in his hands. He had me believing in his character.
That's important, and it's a thing that's been missing from his promo work in the past. Miz believed everything he was saying in the ring that night, and that made it connect that much more deeply for those of us at home. I can't wait to see what's in store once he's done with the McMahon match at WrestleMania. Hopefully what's in store isn't another McMahon match. We should be so lucky.
NEW JAPAN CUP UPDATE
I've talked about it in recent weeks, but I'll say it again: If you aren't a subscriber to New Japan World, what are you doing, friend?
NJPW consistently delivers the best pro wrestling action on the planet, and this year's edition of the New Japan Cup—a 32-man elimination tournament held every spring—is a perfect example. The matches haven't been as good as, say, the G1 each summer. But that's an unfair comparison; the G1 is the best wrestling action of the year.
But the NJ Cup is still worth watching. You should go out of your way to see Tuesday's match between Kazuchika Okada and Will Ospreay, for starters.